The Golden Widows by Isolde Martyn

golden widowsI received a copy of The Golden Widows from the publisher through the Goodreads giveaway. (Thank you!)

I haven’t read much historical fiction – aside from what Phillippa Gregory has written – so The Golden Widows felt like new territory to me. As someone who has practically no knowledge of British history, The Golden Widows was difficult to start and keep up (it took me several months to finish, but that’s a fault of mine, not the book’s), but closer to the end, I enjoyed it. This was especially after I did a quick Wikipedia read about Elizabeth Woodville and Kate Neville – I felt like when I learned about their futures and their significance in the dynastic wars, did I feel they were part of something greater, which led me to be more interested about the conclusion of the book.

I really enjoyed Kate Neville’s narrative – not only for its depth and exploration of her character, her innermost feelings and her emotional conflict, but also because of the consistent pacing of her character and story development. In contrast, Elizabeth’s narrative focuses largely on her struggles as a woman situated on the opposing end of the war. Both narratives offer interesting and relevant insights to what it was like to be a woman during these times, especially how women were used as pawns in your family’s struggle for power, status or survival.

The book was well-written, and I liked how Martyn fleshes out the characters, especially Hastings, Tom and Kate. Admittedly, my rating of this book is largely because of my illiteracy in British history, and so I could not appreciate this book more – needless to say, that’s of my own fault, not of Martyn’s. However, this book has certainly piqued my interest in British history, especially about the women in British history. All in all, if you’re interested in British history, especially the War of the Roses, I recommend this book.

Rating: 3/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Golden Widows
Author: Isolde Martyn
Pages: 370
Publisher: Harlequin Mira

Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks

black looksI owe bell hooks. I have owed bell hooks ever since my encounter with her writing in my final year in university, wherein we analyzed the importance of intersectionality and the potential problems of white feminism and how it has a tendency to be a form of cultural imperialism with the guise of ‘equality’. In other words, I have loved bell hooks ever since her words empowered me as a PoC feminist.

Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks contains 12 essays that centralize its focus and analysis on blackness and representation of blackness in the media. As an intersectional feminist, I think it is necessary praxis to listen, understand and broaden one’s awareness of a range of issues that affect different people of colour so that we can be good allies. And though this book is predominantly about blackness, the sentiment and Black Looks is accessible, educational and still relevant today, even though it was written in 1992.

Something that particularly stood out for me was hook’s observation that solidarity is often formed via shared pain – that we can develop connections with others through our experiences of pain, namely self-hatred, overt prejudice and issues of identity. However, hooks argues that it is equally important – or more important – that we, as people of colour, should also construct language that is positive, and about loving and affirming what makes us different in the realm of white supremacy.

Though critical consciousness is necessary, and it can be painful to confront and change our internalized racism and self-hatred, hooks asserts that self-affirmation, supporting one another and recognition that our experiences are not monolithic are important in resisting oppressive systems that privilege and favour whiteness. This particular point served as an important reminder for me to not only bring awareness and arouse consciousness in those around me, but to also actively support and affirm my PoC peers and encourage self-love.

To construct language that affirms our identities, to encourage self-love and acceptance in our ourselves and each other is so important, especially when most of us who grow up surrounded with images that elevate and celebrate whiteness and diminishes or reinforce stereotypes of non-whiteness will feel pain, confusion and alienation. Supporting each other, our brothers and sisters, is something vital to bridge those gaps of alienation and to heal those wounds.

hooks also talks a lot about representation of blackness in the media, and how sexism intersects with racism in such portrayals. She also shares her experiences with her discussions with other people of colour, especially black women, and also the white people she taught in her classes. A particular statement she makes, which I deeply agree with, asserts:

Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, forgetfulness is encouraged.

Too often have I heard people make calls to forget about history, that the past is the past, and to ‘move on’ from the past — never mind that the effects of the past, of history, of memories of violence enacted on people of colour, remain; still hurting us, and the very violence people abhor and discourage happen today. From that, bell hooks offers an important discussion on the importance of memory, solidarity and resisting erasure.

To those who are not black and do not know the struggles of blackness (and may struggle with this book), it is especially important for us to read, listen, absorb and understand. I took much from this book. I encourage people to read this book if they want to gain insight on perspectives and approaches on blackness, gender and sex, media and identity.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: Black Looks: Race and Representation
Author: bell hooks
Pages: 200
Publisher: South End Press

The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

eternity cureThe Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa surprised me. I gave The Immortal Rules, its predecessor, a somewhat rather positive review, and expressed optimism regarding The Eternity Cure. However, four months on I realized how much I had forgotten from the first book. I had forgotten some of the characters introduced in the first book – owing to their lack of character development or possessing a trait that made them important or memorable – and some events in the previous book now felt pointless because it didn’t contribute to this book. Though the first third of The Eternity Cure is largely forgettable and feels like a remnant of the first book, once the story picks up, it picks up. (As for how it picks up, I’ll leave it to readers to find out.)

This time, I am ambivalent about Allie and Zeke in this novel (more on Zeke later). The most forgettable character in the first book does an 180 in this book, and becomes the spearhead of this novel. The character I am talking about, of course, is Jackal – probably the most complex and interesting character of the series so far. Jackal, in simple terms, is what I would call an anti-hero; he’s pragmatic, arrogant, somewhat of a utilitarian, completely sarcastic, but underneath that cold, calculating exterior, Jackal has motivations, beliefs and sticks to a set of rules that may spur him into doing something compassionate if need be. I liked Jackal. I look forward to reading and learning more about him in The Forever Song.

In my review of The Immortal Song, I said that I liked Zeke – I liked him because of his idealism and his desperation to retain his values in a world that favours utilitarianism in the name of survival. In this book, however, Zeke was reduced to a love interest – there are remnants of his better self in the first book, like his self-imposed obligation to protect the helpless. Where was the headstrong, idealist Zeke that readers encountered in the The Immortal Song? (Probably there, somewhere, just hidden underneath the compromise for developing the romance — which I don’t find particularly unique or intimate.)

With regards to the primary antagonist of this book, I don’t find him particularly scary at all. Sure, he has a liking for torture, he’s sadistic, he’s cruel — but that’s the issue. Sarren is a horrible individual, a merciless and formidable enemy but that’s all he is; he is the stereotypical, predictable Chaotic Evil. I hope I am wrong about Sarren when I read The Forever Song.

If there is one thing that The Immortal Rules does better, though, is the introspection and self-exploration. Granted, Allie has a better sense of who she is in this book and she isn’t as confused about her identity – human or vampire – Kagawa tries desperately to cling onto that even though it was explored enough in The Immortal Rules. I cannot count how many times Allie tells herself that she really wants to sink her fangs into Zeke’s [exposed body part]. I get that this is supposed to be a reminder that Allie being in close proximity to Zeke can be emotionally taxing, but by the 15th ‘I wanted to sink my fangs into [body part]’, it leaves creativity to be desired. Show not tell, maybe?

Regardless, though The Eternity Cure lacks an overarching message or theme, it functions well without one. More than an exploration of the psyche or a challenge to the meaning or ontology of identity, The Eternity Cure is there for readers who enjoyed the first book and want their characters fleshed out, story progressed, and curiousities satisfied. If you’re a fan of the first book, The Eternity Cure is a worthwhile read and a satisfying addition to the series.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Eternity Cure
Book Series: Blood of Eden #2
Author: Julie Kagawa
Pages: 434
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

nocturnesI’ve been in a reading slump lately. I mean, I’ve been reading still, but it isn’t because I feel inspired to read, but because I set myself a goal of reading 75 books this year and, well, I am falling behind. But after reading Nocturnes, I feel reinvigorated. Nocturnes has reminded me why I love to read, why I love to discover and why I love to feel. Ishiguro writes with this incredible subtlety that is so rare in writers; the emotions that his characters and narrative elicit are so profound, yet I can’t even begin to find the words to describe those feelings. For that reason, my review of this book may be incoherent but I shall try my best.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro, as implied by the novel’s title, consists of five short stories that share a common theme: music. Each story enters a moment in a character’s life that probes introspection and challenges normative ideas we have about life, love and identity.

What really left me in awe with this book is how Ishiguro’s narrative is laced with the mundane and the ordinary, but it also touches on the fleeting emotions, thoughts and feelings that we experience but pay no heed to. Whilst reading this, I felt a rush of these feelings; ones that cannot be defined with a word and are difficult to explain, yet they felt extremely familiar to me.

These feelings feel complex and multifaceted – they are the byproduct of personal histories and the passage of time – but how Ishiguro articulates them with such few words or through a gradual and careful buildup is incredible to me. It is so subtle; it creeps up on you when you do not expect it. I believe Ishiguro says that these five stories are about nightfall, not only because the night is an important motif in the book, but because the very word seems to imply that there is something that is fading or changing with time. It is like you enter a room with an estranged friend you haven’t seen in ten years, and for the day you stay in that room with them; by the end of that day, perhaps you may feel  possibility reignited, but as the day fades, it is extinguished by a truth or the past or lingering feelings. You leave that room like nothing has changed, but inside, you have. Minds change haphazardly and seemingly without sense; it’s asking the why and tapping into one’s innermost psyche that is interesting.

I felt like I have known these characters my whole life – but perhaps Nocturnes is, in a way, reflecting little pieces of who I am and my human experience. And it is these emotions, the ones that Ishiguro convey in his writing, is what, I think, makes us human — not simple, primary feelings that are fleeting, tools for ideological manipulation, or have no depth, but feelings that linger, are complex, and that we have no language for. These, I believe, are what I can safely call true, authentic feelings – ones that fall outside socio-cultural boundaries.

I really recommend Nocturnes. Noteworthy stories for me were Crooner, Cellists and Malvern Hills. It has the nuance and elegance of Never Let Me Go (for those who have read it) and it is lighter without losing any intricacies of what make the stories profound.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Pages: 221
Publisher: Faber and Faber

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

alice in wonderlandEarlier this year, I took it upon myself to read more classic literature — books that are the cornerstones of literature and storytelling, and books that have – or should – set precedent for modern literature. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, I believe, is one of those books; there is something magical and wonderful in the book’s narrative that the Disney adaptation just cannot capture.

Whilst reading this book, I had this sense that this book is the ideal book for a child and their parent or an adult to read together. Though the narrative is simple and easy to read, the prose is written in a way that makes it silly, but simultaneously playful and imaginative. And I think this sort of narrative, that doesn’t take itself so seriously and is conscious of its tone, is the ideal story to share with young children. It’s a comforting read – where silly and wild imaginations are encouraged, and perception is broadened as we view a strange world through Alice’s, a young child, mind and perceptions.

Also whilst reading this, I felt that this book was tapping into my subconscious; I had a similar reading experience whilst reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. And while it may not have the sophistication that Hard-Boiled Wonderland does, the aimlessness and purposelessness of the narrative and Alice’s journey feels like an exploration of the Other and the unknown – such as the possibilities within our consciousness or the boundaries of what we can conceptualize. This, I think, is what a children’s book should do – something that encourages childhood perceptiveness and reignites the adult imagination.

Analysis aside, I enjoyed the ideas and the effect of Alice in Wonderland more than the story itself. Don’t get me wrong with the rating – I recognize the importance and cleverness of this book and its narrative, but in terms of how much I enjoyed it, I found it entertaining enough to continue reading – it also helped that this book wasn’t very long, otherwise I might have struggled through it. So with regards to its rating, it’s not due to the faults of the book; it’s really attributed to my personal taste.

Rating: 3/5

Book Information
Book Name: Alice in Wonderland (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
Author: Lewis Carroll
Pages: 92
Publisher: Gramercy Books